Gentlemen may prefer blondes, but it seems that Secret Service agents prefer South American prostitutes. Eleven Secret Service agents and five military personnel were found to have brought prostitutes back to their hotel rooms last week while in Cartagena, Colombia preparing for a summit which President Obama was attending.
The incident took place on Wednesday night, after the men had already violated their curfew. The Hotel Caribe in Bocagrande’s policy required that visiting guests be checked out before 7 AM. One of the ladies in attendance entered into a disagreement over payment with one of the gentlemen, and her delayed departure alerted hotel staff to check on the man’s room. When the agent refused to open the door, the hotel called local police.
In accordance with international process, the issue was handed over to officials at the U.S. Embassy in Colombia, where an investigation began.
The Secret Service has a “zero-tolerance policy on personal misconduct” (similar to the RA policies that have now resulted in the firing of nine Hayden RAs and the RCA). Although it was noted that Obama’s personal security was never in jeopardy, the incident has cast a shadow of embarrassment over the White House and the agencies involved.
The servicemen were put on leave and replaced by other agents before President Obama’s arrival in Colombia on Friday. The situation successfully upstaged the international summit and its discussion of trade and economic relations between President Obama and 32 other heads of state.
There are doubts as to whether this is a unique and unprecedented incident. The number of agents and government employees involved is also suspected to be higher than currently stated. California Rep. Darrell Issa noted that “this kind of breach is a breach in the federal workforce’s most elite protective unit, and they don’t just protect the president, of course; they protect cabinet members, the vice president, first families, candidates.”
The danger that Rep. Peter King, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, observed was the possibility that any of the women or hotel staff could have obtained evidence to blackmail the agents involved. He further noted that “to be bringing prostitutes or almost anyone into a security zone when you’re supposed to protect the president is totally wrong.”
In light of the full range of responsibilities the Secret Service agents bear and the individuals they protect, the situation could have seen a much more compromising end. But the end is still to come. Rep. Issa has suggested changes in disciplinary tactics to include polygraph tests.
Despite the scandalous nature and sensational ripple effects of the incident, Washington is no stranger to sex-related scandals. We’re just thoroughly entertained by the image of the most trusted and respected government employees calling up Colombian hookers and entertaining them in a swanky seaside hotel.
The President was, of course, not pleased with the conduct of his servicemen, stating, “I expect that investigation to be thorough and to be rigorous. If it turns out that some of the allegations made in the press are confirmed, then of course I’ll be angry.”
Prostitution is illegal in Colombia, though there are areas where such activities are generally overlooked by police. For now, the fate of the agents and military personnel is uncertain. They will remain on leave until further inquiries are made into the situation and will certainly have to go through disciplinary proceedings, but as none have had a history of offenses or misconduct, there is hope on the horizon for these admirable risk-takers.